The Malta Independent 19 March 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Valleys master plan - A good idea if backed up by action

Wednesday, 20 February 2019, 10:50 Last update: about 26 days ago

Environment Minister Jose Herrera announced earlier this week that environmental surveys are being carried out in several valleys with the aim of drawing up a master plan for the conservation of Malta and Gozo’s valleys.

The surveys are gathering data about water passage, ecology and land use in over 100 kilometres of valleys. The surveys have been commissioned by Ambjent Malta as part of a collaboration with the Energy & Water Agency.  

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Herrera pointed out that the government has already set up a task force for the cleaning up and rehabilitation of valleys. But the fact remains that, apart from cleaning up these valleys, there must also be efforts to ensure that these green lungs remain clean.

Not only that, but we must ensure that these ecologically rich areas are not threatened by development or others forms of destruction.

Herrera made the announcement during a visit at Wied Ghomor, which is one of the valleys under review. Wied Ghomor has for years been under siege by developers, which have used every form of excuse imaginable to try and build their structures in the valley.

Proposals for an old quarry to be turned into an old people’s home and for a cow farm to be transformed into a tourist village have been turned down, but new planning applications keep coming in, and the valley can never be truly safe from development unless the rules are changed.

For a start, we hope that this master plan actually takes shape and comes into force – that it does not meet the same fate of the Paceville master plan, or the fuel stations policy review.

We also hope that this so-called master plan does not only deal with the conservation of valleys from a cleansing point of view, but that it also ensures that no future development can take place inside them.

We can no longer see old disused farmhouses turned into sprawling villas with swimming pools because of silly laws that say that you can do that simply by proving that the dwelling was once inhabited.

The authorities must also identify all the areas that have been affected by the dumping of construction waste and other forms of littering. But drawing up a list is not enough. These places must be thoroughly cleaned up and all efforts must be made to ensure that they remain like that. This cannot be done without regular inspections, monitoring and exorbitant fines for those caught in the act.

Ambjent Malta chief Conrad Borg Manche’ has already proved that he is the right man for the job and acted within hours when this newspaper reported illegal dumping at Wied Qirda in Zebbug. He mobilised government employees together with volunteers and the littered area was cleaned up in no time. But within a few weeks fresh littering had taken place – in fact it takes place on a regular basis.

The authorities must also be given the power to intervene in cases of illegalities. The Malta Independent had reported how the main watercourse in Wied Qirda had been blocked off by tonnes of concrete that had been laid to provide access to two villas in the area – one of which was built illegally. To make matters worse, Infrastructure Malta asphalted over the illegal structure – which has been the subject of an enforcement order for years – when it resurfaced the road a few months ago.

So yes, identifying watercourse blockages is a good idea, but makes sense if action is then taken to remove existing illegalities.

The idea of surveying our valleys and drafting a master plan is a marvellous one, but it would be pointless unless it is backed up by action.

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